It seemed like when I was a kid there were factions in punk rock. You had Green Day, Rancid, NOFX, Blink-182 and The Offspring, and everybody had their chosen favourite. Yeah, of course there was a crossover—for me, Green Day were pretty much flawless until American Idiot came out and transformed them into a bizarre parody of themselves, and there was the odd Blink song that was just about listenable—but people were quite clear with their preferences. I was unquestionably an Offspring fan. Between myself and my brothers we owned all of their albums and listened to them pretty religiously. When we got Crazy Taxi with our PS2 when it released, the presence of The Offspring on the soundtrack increased its cool factor by a considerable degree.
Let’s be honest too, if there’s any band whose music was a good fit for Crazy Taxi, it’s The Offspring. Those songs were fucking frantic. And they all came from the same album—Ixnay on the Hombre.
The history of The Offspring can probably be broken into about four distinct segment. That’s how it always worked in my mind, anyway. Their first two albums, The Offspring and Ignition, are punk in its rawest and purest form. We can all remember ‘Blackball’ on THPS3, and despite the fact that their self-titled debut always sounded too rough around the edges for me growing up, it’s unquestionably a seminal album. Ignition is also criminally underrated in the band’s history, and ‘L.A.P.D.’ alone is enough reason to dig this album out and listen to it again.
Then things move into the early stages of The Offspring’s development into fully-fledged punk rock heavyweights. First you had Smash, the album that skyrocketed the band to fame and had killer tracks like ‘Come Out and Play’ and ‘Bad Habit’, as well as ‘Genocide’, a track whose lead riff would recur at least once later on in the band’s history and has become a symbolic melody of the band.
Skipping over Ixnay, because obviously I’m going to talk about it in depth—read the title, dingus—the next two albums for me were The Offspring’s embrace of their mainstream appeal. Americana is a phenomenal hit machine, with countless famous songs from the band; ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’, ‘Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)’, ‘She’s Got Issues’, ‘Walla Walla’, ‘Why Don’t You Get A Job?’.
Then you had Conspiracy of One, which birthed the band’s now iconic flaming skull logo and saw the band (sort of) returning to a pure punk sound after the somewhat novelty elements of Americana. Americana is a fucking great album and its title track encapsulates The Offspring sound perfectly—something I lovingly refer to as ‘Woah-Punk’ (listen to it and you’ll pick it up quickly)—but it was hardly the most punk album they ever released. Nothing wrong with that either, Dexter Holland has admitted that he wants to write popular music and be successful and he’s demonstrated that he knows how to write a catchy song, so more power to him.
Everything after Conspiracy of One for me just gets categorised under “also ran”. Splinter was pretty good and had some nice tracks, but pretty much removed the final sandbag that weighted the band down in pure punk territory, and whatever the hell that album was that followed had such embarrassingly bad artwork that I outright refuse to listen to it at all. More in-depth criticism like that coming soon.
So when you look at Ixnay on the Hombre, it’s right on the cusp of the band’s mainstream blow-up, and it has those little hints. The opening track, ‘Disclaimer’, with its playful warning of “explicit depiction of things which are real […] real things commonly known as life” displays the novelty-esque soundbites and quirky voices that would become commonplace in later releases, and ‘Don’t Pick It Up’ toward the album’s end is one of the earliest displays of Holland’s realisation that, perhaps, he was actually quite good at writing straightforward catchy pop tunes.
In between these two points, however, this album is staggeringly loud and fast. No sooner than ‘Disclaimer’ ends you’re thrown into ‘The Meaning of Life’, pummelling you with hammering snares and frantic powerchord melodies, quickly followed by ‘Mota’, a song which literally makes me want to punch the nearest surface or air-drum like one of those strange metalheads you see practicing blast-beats on the tube sometimes. My hair’s getting longer these days, too.
During my teenage years, ‘Cool To Hate’ was one of my anthems, an aggressive and self-righteous anthem dismissing everyone and everything and justifying the various forms of rage bubbling inside me at the time. ‘I hate the jocks, I hate the geeks, I hate the trendies and I also hate the freaks.’ ‘Being positive’s so uncool’. Fucking glorious.
It’s also an album that does punk properly; fourteen tracks clocking in at 42 minutes, most of them no longer than three minutes. The only really epic track comes right at the end in ‘Change the World’ developing Genocide’s guitar riff into an ominous opening crescendo before exploding into another furious punk anthem. This is a killer closer to a wild and flailing album that never lets up.
There’s not even any real motive behind writing this piece. I decided to listen back to all The Offspring’s albums this week and it just really hit me hard how fucking crazy Ixnay on the Hombre actually is.
I think when you look at the album artwork for Americana and Conspiracy of One—not disregarding Americana’s visual connections to records like Melvins’ Houdini or numerous Black Flag albums—you can actually see the band’s transition into a more cartoon-esque, PG-rated punk rock which, whilst still fun, necessarily polished out those final rough edges from their sound. It’s like when you realise that, having done cinematic epics like The Dark Knight or Inception, it’s unlikely Christopher Nolan will ever go back to the raw, intense filmmaking he demonstrated such mastery of with Memento and Insomnia. I don’t know, such is life, times change, people change and so on.
That’s me done, anyway. This is just an attempt at capturing a time in my life when the energy and intensity of Ixnay on the Hombre really spoke to me on a personal level and would have me sitting on school buses with a CD Walkman banging my head back and forth and hitting my thighs harder and harder. And as I say that I realise that everything about this album embodies what punk rock really represented to me. Of course I loved The Clash, Black Flag, Minor Threat, Sex Pistols and so on, but those hammering kicks and snares in Ixnay were rebellion defined for many moments of my childhood. Safe.